Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell
William Shakespeare, Othello (1603) | Play
William Shakespeare, Othello (1603)
William Shakespeare’s Othello (1603) is one of his greatest and most psychologically insightful tragedies. True to the genre of the tragedy, the play tells the story of how a great man, in this case Othello, who is a Moorish mercenary general in the pay of the Venetian government, is brought down by a fatal flaw in his character, in this case jealousy. The audience, having initially been encouraged to appreciate and admire Othello’s noble qualities, and his profound love for his new wife Desdemona, is by the end of the play confronted by Othello’s murder of his wife, who dies shortly before Othello learns that she was innocent of the infidelity that he suspected, a revelation followed closely by his self-inflicted punishment of suicide. Consequently, the play encourages the audience to reflect upon the dangers of jealousy as a fatal flaw and how they could avoid succumbing to it themselves.
Secondly, the play is about deception and misperception, revealing how an intelligent honourable man like Othello can be fooled, and be encouraged to fool himself, as he is caught in the web of deception spun by the sociopathic Iago, a Venetian officer who sought revenge on Othello and another officer, Cassio, because Othello promoted Cassio ahead of him. Iago’s evil machinations fuel Othello’s jealousy and help drive the plot until his ambitious schemes come undone, leaving Iago and his principled wife Emilia, who discovered and revealed her husband’s treachery, among the fatalities of the final Act.
A sub-theme is the issue of racial difference. Othello is black, and although trusted and honoured by the Venetian court, he is not fully accepted in white Venetian society. This is evident when Brabantio who had wholeheartedly accepted Othello as an esteemed houseguest later reluctantly accepted him as a son-in-law when this union with his daughter Desdemona was a fait accompli. Meanwhile, Othello’s internalised sense of ‘otherness’ added to his insecure fears that his Venetian wife could be tempted by Cassio, who is a handsome member of her own kind, as Iago deceitfully suggested to him.
Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez
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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal. (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.)
Subject: Othello meaning, Othello themes, Othello analysis, Othello notes
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Student Resources by Dr Mark Lopez
More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my Melbourne private tutoring business.